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‘Pathetic response’ to ash dieback

East Clare councillor says farmers feel ‘abandoned’ due to government inaction on disease killing native hardwoods

AN EAST Clare councillor has described the response of government to the problem of ash dieback disease as “pathetic”.
Councillor Pat Burke told the December meeting of the local authority that farmers feel “abandoned” by the Forestry Service, and are facing financial hardship over the loss of their trees.
The Whitegate native was sharply critical of the Green Party minister with responsibility for forestry, Pippa Hackett and he urged Senator Róisín Garvey and Councillor Liam Grant to make representations to their party colleague on the issue.
“I planted land myself back in 2011 with ash saplings which were approved by the Department at the time,” he said. “Since then, they brought in the virus – which is nearly worse the COVID Chairman – this ash dieback disease to our native trees.
“I planted 17 acres of ash on reasonably good land that was well able to grow ash. I believe there’s something like 50,000 acres of ash woodland planted under the Forest Service schemes in the last few decades. And most of this unfortunately will be killed off by ash dieback.”
The Fine Gael member said that while a Reconstitution and Underplanting scheme is available, progress is slow.
“We have 50,000 acres in trouble,” he said. “We have landowners, who applied for 4,000 acres under the new scheme, but only 1,000 acres have been have been approved.
“This is deeply concerning, because it’s quite clear that the Forest Service has abandoned the landowners who gave up their good agricultural land for the planting of of native ash trees, and in which by Irish law is a permanent land use change and can’t be converted back into agricultural land.
“These farmers are landowners who planted the ash are now facing a financial crisis, as they will have no trees to harvest.
“If a farmer was unfortunate enough to lose their livestock through TB, for example, they would be rightly compensated for their financial loss. But this does not appear to be the case with the ash dieback disease.”
Councillor Burke said progress with the scheme is “pathetic, really and not acceptable”.
“It is clear to me as a farmer and as an ash woodland owner that the Forest Service is not concerned about the financial implication of the loss of the ash to us owners and they don’t appear to be concerned either about the loss to the nation.”
Councillor Pat Hayes agreed with his Killaloe area colleague.
“We have an amount of farmers in Clare who were encouraged to plant native hardwoods and there is also the whole fiasco really around Forest Service in terms of felling licences, and all this work about replanting, and also the huge anomaly where people need to go on and can’t take out their ash and plant coniferous trees without actually doing a full assessment,” he said.
Councillor Donna McGettigan also supported the motion.
“There is a scheme right now creating disease resistant ash trees, but it’s not going to be the same as our ash trees,” she said. “I think it’s a very good motion Pat.”
Councillor Alan O’Callaghan agreed the problem needs to be addressed.
“There was a reconstitution grant and some people got it and more people didn’t,” he said.
“The problem is there and it’ll always be there and it needs to be rectified ASAP so that farmers get some something back to sort this ash dieback.”
Councillor Joe Garrihy said he too supported the motion.
“I’m aware of a number of community groups who did a native plantation under a NeighbourWood Scheme back in 2007 and 2008,” he said.
“Now we are looking at a couple of community parks that are completely decimated because of the ash dieback. It’s a massive issue country-wide.”
Green Councillor Liam Grant said he would speak to the minister.
“I think everything you’re saying is right, and I think it’s disappointing for everyone and how this ash dieback has developed,” he told Councillor Burke.
“I think a lot of people have slipped through the cracks in terms of supports they should be getting so I’ll use my position and my power and I’ll do whatever I can to support the motion.”
Joe Cooney agreed the issue is of serious concern for both farmers and landowners.
“It’s time now for the Minister to get on and help these people,” he said.
Councillor Burke thanked his colleagues for their support and Councillor Grant for his willingness to raise the issue with the minister.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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